31 Days to Scare ~ Pennywise: The Story of IT

The Facts:

Synopsis: A documentary surrounding the 1990 television miniseries It, based upon the Stephen King novel of the same name, featuring a notorious villain known mostly as Pennywise.
Stars: Tim Curry, Seth Green, Richard Thomas, Emily Perkins, Dennis Christopher, Richard Masur, Lawrence D. Cohen, Tim Reid, Michael Cole, Brandon Crane, Ben Heller, Tommy Lee Wallace, Adam Faraizl, Richard Bellis, Norman Cabrera, Gene Warren Jr., Bart Mixon, Bret Mixon, Brent Baker, Mark Tillman
Director: John Campopiano & Chris Griffiths
Rated: NR
Running Length: 126 minutes
TMMM Score: (7.5/10)
Review: The television miniseries must seem a bit archaic for a generation that has grown up with streaming services at their fingertips. Even thinking about it now, it looks like a massive commitment that might not even pay off in the end. What if you devoted multiple days/weeks to a project that fizzled out by the conclusion? I’m old enough to remember the heyday of the television events that occupied our Sunday evenings and stretched throughout the following week. Sometimes you’d be lucky and start with a two-hour movie followed by one-hour installments or multiple two-hour segments without a break. The real nail-biters ran weekly, meaning you had one chance to watch, and if you missed it or forgot to set your VCR and account for an afternoon football game that ran late, there was no DVR to save you. 

By now, most of you out there should be acquainted with Stephen King’s ‘It’. Published in 1986, King’s 22nd novel was a nearly 1200-page doorstop of a narrative that alternated between time periods, all centered around a group of friends from Derry, Maine. Bonded by a terrifying childhood event, when the same evil surfaces thirty years later, the adult group is called back to face their deepest fears and a most vicious supernatural villain that knows which buttons to push. Taking the form of a deranged clown named Pennywise, the King’s novel was both a feverish page-turner and an old-fashioned look back into a time readers could still grasp easily.

While ‘It’ would find its way to the big screen in two good movies (Chapter 1 in 2017 and Chapter II in 2019) and the town of Derry will live on in an HBOMax series with plot details under wraps, it’s the first adaptation of King’s work that is most burned into the memory. That’s the basis for directors John Campopiano & Chris Griffiths’s documentary Pennywise: The Story of It, an exhaustive look into the history, production, and legacy of that 1990 television miniseries with a focus on its most recognizable asset.

Airing on Sunday, November 18, and Monday, November 20, 1990, It was shepherded to the small screen by producer/co-writer Lawrence D. Cohen when the project landed at ABC, who was lucky to land the piece during King’s late ‘80s/early ’90s hot streak. Conceived as a 10-hour miniseries (this was before Netflix made that long-form sit truly palatable), the teleplay eventually parsed it down to its two-hour form. By that time, original director George A. Romero was out, and Halloween III director Tommy Lee Wallace had signed on, also considerably revising Cohen’s massive script. Wallace assembled the cast, an array of familiar names in television at the time, with stage and screen star Tim Curry (The Rocky Horror Picture Show) taking on the role of the menacing clown Pennywise.

The rest is, of course, history as Curry’s character became synonymous with not just the miniseries but with the nightmares of many children and their children after. Campopiano & Griffiths go to great lengths to break down every facet of the production, covering the topics fans would want to hear about. Crew and cast are interviewed with only a few missing participants (frustratingly, Annette O’Toole declined to be included), but the real prize is Curry. Suffering a stroke in 2012, Curry hasn’t been much in the public eye, but his recollections from the set and his process are gold. 

There’s no commentary in Pennywise: The Story of It on how well the miniseries has held up over the years (ehhh…), and the general impression you get from everyone on screen is an experience preserved in amber. In that respect, it’s always lovely to hear that a movie existing in your head as an exciting time of your life was mutual for the people who made it. I can recall exactly where I was and what was going on in my life when I sat down to watch this miniseries, so each time it gets brought up, many good memories come flooding back. With experience in these types of retrospective documentaries on cult/fan favorite films, Campopiano (Unearthed & Untold: The Path to Pet Sematary) and Griffiths (You’re So Cool, Brewster! The Story of Fright Night) again deliver a near-comprehensive look back that floats above the rest.